Q&A With Daryl Morey
Rockets' GM dishes on importance of December, hoops philosophy and more
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HOUSTON - It had been awhile since Rockets.com last sat down wth General Manager Daryl Morey for a frank discussion about the state of the team, so it was definitely time to play catch up. And quite frankly the timing couldn't have been any better. After a rocky start to the season, the Rockets have recently bounced back with impressive wins over the Thunder and Lakers, allowing us the perfect opportunity to give an upbeat Morey some good-natured ribbing about some of his more maudlin tweets over the weekend. What follows is a transcript of our conversation.
JCF: I wish we could beat the Lakers everyday so you could be this happy.
DM: Oh, it’s true. I was in the doldrums when I was quoting ancient scripture or something. All sharp objects had to be removed from the house at that point.
JCF: Well that was actually going to be my first question. I wanted to see if any of the guys called you up after the wins against Oklahoma City and LA, saying they were dedicating those wins to you because they were worried about your well being following your mournful tweets over the weekend.
DM: No. They smartly don't read my tweets.
JCF: So you didn’t have Shane calling you up, trying to talk you off the ledge?
DM: Well, I had actually thought about going with, “It's always darkest just before it goes pitch black,” but I figured the humor wouldn’t translate.
JCF: That was probably a good call.
DM: Yeah, I definitely tend towards dry, sarcastic British humor. I actually aspire to be British - I'm pasty white as well.
JCF: Who doesn’t aspire to be British? Except for maybe the British themselves, that is. But being serious for a moment, I guess it goes without saying that this has been the toughest bout of adversity you’ve faced in your tenure with the team?
DM: Well it’s tougher for the players since they’re the ones who have to bust their butts on the floor but yeah, it’s been very tough. This is the furthest away from what we’d hoped to do compared to how we’re actually performing. That’s what makes it so hard. We felt like even though we had some challenges we still felt we would be fighting for a playoff spot. The good news is I think we still can.
JCF: Speaking of that, do you feel as if this is the make or break month in terms of how you decide to move forward this season?
DM: Well I think it is a make or break month for the team, but I don’t think this month changes how we’re looking at the big picture. We’re trying to win a championship and every move we make is toward that, so I don’t think one month will change much on that end. But it sure does change how our season looks, though. We’re going to have to really have a great December to get back into this thing.
We’re sort of having the opposite situation from last year. Last year, I thought we could fight for a playoff spot in the 45-win range. I thought we could get into that range and that the West might help us out and that the 8-seed might not be 50-wins again. And though we fell a little short of 45 wins, the West ended up being ridiculously hard to make the playoffs again.
Now this year we’re obviously worse than we expected to be but the West, it looks like something less than 50 wins is going to get you in. Right now, 41 to 45 wins might make it. So I think we can climb right back into this race with a strong December, which is really encouraging.
JCF: So from a trade and roster tweaking perspective, the moves you would consider making as a GM don’t really change all that much based on whether the team does well or struggles over the course of the next few weeks?
DM: No, not really. Like I mentioned in that recent Houston Chronicle article, it changes how we evaluate the players we have in that we’re always learning about whether or not we see them as guys who fit on a championship team. But I don’t think one month makes a difference in terms of how we look at the moves we need to make to be a championship contender.
JCF: I know you’ve talked repeatedly about this team’s need to get elite talent. So in a league seemingly designed to punish the middle class, at least from a record standpoint, how is it more beneficial to win 45 games as opposed to say 25 or 30?
DM: I think the more wins you have, it shows that your players are more talented so it opens up your ability to upgrade the team if necessary. We’re not really looking for a trade right now - I still believe in this group. If we were to do terribly, yes, we get a higher pick but it also reflects poorly on our players. We’re always trying to win - we’ve got that contract with our fans.
The only time being in the middle class hurts you is if you’re in the middle class with players who are on bad contracts. If you’re in the middle class and all your players are on good contracts then I don’t think that’s a problem.
JCF: You've been open and honest about your desire to acquire elite talent. And when it comes to acquiring said talent, you essentially have three methods: the draft, free agency and trades…
DM: We have open tryouts, too. We just let people walk on and try out for the team, among other methods.
JCF: Well I do know you can be pretty intimidating in the low post - have you tried out yourself?
DM: I immediately rejected myself before the tryout began.
JCF: Bummer. So with that, sadly, not being an option, and with the upcoming free agent class being a far cry from last year’s, and with the trade market for true superstars seemingly slim at best, does that mean you find yourself focusing more on ways to try to acquire the necessary elite talent through the draft?
DM: I think you can’t really predict a lot of those things. When Boston acquired Garnett, for example, they would not have thought at this point of the year that he’d become available. So I don’t think you can predict it, I think you just have to always be ready.
JCF: Fair enough. I also want to get your thoughts on something from a basketball philosophy standpoint. It’s no secret that the 3-point shot is a huge part of what this team values. Do all the guards and wings have the green light to take open 3s when they become available? I was talking to Kyle Lowry about this earlier today. Kyle’s obviously struggled with his shot so far this season and for his career he’s just a 26 percent 3-point shooter. But he says he’s got the green light to fire away whenever he’s wide open.
DM: Yeah, he should. Absolutely. If you have an open 3, you should take it. He’s a point guard, so if it’s early in the clock he’ll probably look for something better but we don’t have a problem with anyone shooting open 3s. It’s nearly always a good shot. You only have to shoot it around 31 or 32 percent for it to be a decent shot. Almost no one is a career 28 percent shooter on open 3s. In the long run Kyle will be closer to that 31 or 32 percent number or even better.
JCF: I know in the past you’ve mentioned how things start to pick up for you around mid-December, when some of the players who signed new contracts in the summer now become trade eligible. What’s taking up most of your time right now while you await that moment?
DM: I’m in a pretty heavy college schedule right now because this is a great time to see college games with all the tournaments going on. But, yeah, as you mentioned the trade talk heats up around the middle of the month. But things still don’t get done because teams are, appropriately, often gun shy and conservative. Without a deadline it’s hard to get things going. You’ve got to be the one pushing someone or else they’ll take a stay-the-course approach.
JCF: So in the interim, you’re going to be okay then? We don’t need to worry about your well-being?
DM: (laughs) I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine. It’s just hard. It’s a big month, so I hope we play well.
JCF: Any quotes you want to leave us with at this time, or should we just save you the trouble and direct everyone to despair.com?
DM: (laughs) How about “Dum spiro, spero.” That’s Latin for, “As I breathe, I have hope.” How’s that?
JCF: Words to live by this holiday season, Daryl.